Hong Kong schools have been open for several weeks already, mostly starting with older students in late May and then gradually for other students in a staggered approach. My Year Four students returned to school on Monday 1st June.
The restrictions and reopening guidelines set by each school vary, and rightly so. Schools know what’s best for their unique context. But there are some common threads due to government expectations. I won’t go through them all, but I would like to share my experiences.
On Monday (June!), I’ll see my Y4 students for the first time since January. It’s not school as we know it… but we’ll take it! Can’t wait to be back with everyone again! What a ride! #VSAHKG pic.twitter.com/64SNb1C7Gm
— Adam Hill (@AdamHillEDU) May 29, 2020
I shared this photograph on social media on the Friday before my students returned. The responses (especially on Facebook) were very mixed, understandably. This approach to teaching and learning does not reflect our philosophies. It feels unnatural and outdated to seat students individually with no group work or discussions. And there’s something very sad about separating students with plastic walls and keeping them a metre apart. Moreover, I was far from enthusiastic about wearing a mask all day, especially in this hot, muggy Hong Kong summer. I held all of these concerns, yet my overwhelming feeling – and the feeling from our entire school community – was excitement. We’d been away from school for so long. We’d done our time!
Before I dive into a few key points, I’ll briefly outline our approach. Again, I’m not suggesting that you should do it this way. Nor am I going to justify every point. This is just what has worked for us, and every point has a reason behind it that might not be obvious as you read. But perhaps you can take a few ideas from us.
Our primary children attend school in the mornings only, then go home and continue working on their assignments in the afternoon (and vice versa for our secondary students). We have condensed our usual timetables so that all lessons still take place, but they are only thirty minutes each. Students then work at home in the afternoons to finish the tasks. In this hybrid model, we emphasise that school is still full time, but half is in person and half is remote. We offer one Zoom session daily for the few students who can’t attend school and for any who have questions about their assignments.
For anyone who is still making plans to return to school, the aim of this post is to put your mind at rest. Our experience of school resumption has been hugely positive. Here are my main reflections:
The students are happy
Obviously, this is a big one. I’m pleased to say that the students are just so happy to see each other and their teachers! They almost don’t care about all of the changes. They adapted quickly to their new normal and continue to show incredible resilience. Our wonderful students are a credit to us, and they have made it work. And, by the way, the classroom in the tweet above looks very different when it’s filled with smiling, happy children.
The hybrid model is working well
As we planned to reopen, my biggest issue was that learning was actually going well remotely. I worried that we would disrupt our routine and student learning would be impacted, especially considering all of the restrictions and the uninspiring classroom layout. From a learning perspective, I wondered if students would, actually, be better off at home. But this hybrid model seems to offer the best of both.
Parents appreciate being informed and updated
Throughout this entire process, we have valued parent input and kept them informed. They have really appreciated this. Our families have truly been partners during this challenging period. They were updated every step of the way through various means, on a whole school level, and by their class teachers. Videos (such as the one below) were created and shared to reassure everybody that measures have been put into place. Parents have also been invited to look around the school and offer their input.
Wearing a mask is… fine
Wearing a mask all day can be uncomfortable and annoying, I won’t lie. It can also be challenging to hear the students when they speak, especially the quiet ones. But masks ensure the safety of the school community. They’re a government requirement for good reason. Both the government and our school help by providing them. Teaching and learning with masks isn’t ideal, but it’s fine. It’s doable. Besides, wearing masks in Hong Kong isn’t unusual. People have always worn masks when feeling unwell or recovering. It doesn’t seem to faze the kids here.
We are preparing for all scenarios
We can’t get too comfortable. The situation is still unpredictable and Hong Kong’s circumstances could change very quickly. For example, schools in Beijing have sadly closed again this week after reporting new COVID cases. We finish for the summer at the end of June, giving us some breathing space. Nobody knows for sure what the next academic year will look like. We’re making preparations for all scenarios. Let’s hope that the world can get back to some normality sooner rather than later.
I hope that this blog post has made you feel more comfortable and optimistic about school resumption. I also understand if it has raised more questions than it has answered. Please feel free to add your questions or concerns to the comments section below. Or, if you have also returned to school, please share your experiences.
To summarise, our school community is happy to be back, learning well and staying safe. Thanks to the parents, teachers, leadership and – most of all – the students, school resumption has been a huge success.
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